COMMENTARY: The Snowbirds unite us in celebration, then with grief

It started young, as many passions do.

You see something that inspires you, makes you wonder, makes you dream. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds did that for me; they still do.

Canadian Forces Base Trenton (now 8 Wing Trenton) was home of the Quinte Air Show and where our family spent many wonderful days over the years. It’s where I first saw the Snowbirds and when a seed of passion for aviation and the military was planted.

Fast-forward 20 years, when I was given a once-in-a-lifetime experience to fly with the team out of their home base of CFB Moose Jaw (now 15 Wing Moose Jaw). The professionalism, precision and passion of these aviators and their team was incredible to witness, to be a part of for just a few hours. As we flew in formation over downtown Regina and back to Moose Jaw along Highway 1, it was hard to keep the emotion in check. What a day that was.

It would be another 20 years before I saw the team again.

It was Saturday morning when they departed Edmonton International on their way to Rocky Mountain House as part of OpInspiration. I cheered them on as they buzzed by, joining you in a chorus of hoots and hollers that had played itself out in towns and cities across Canada over the past couple of weeks. We were united and, for a brief moment, forgot about the difficulties of 2020.

An operation designed solely to inspire Canadians and thank front-line workers ended in tragedy shortly after takeoff in Kamloops, B.C., when Snowbird 11 crashed into a residential neighbourhood, taking the life of Snowbirds public affairs officer Capt. Jenn Casey and injuring Capt. Rich MacDougall.

It was Casey who, just last week, helped me set up an interview with one of the Snowbirds, a young pilot, a friend of mine who had recently joined the team. Capt. Erik Temple told me they were thrilled with how the tour was going and the feedback from Canadians.

They were honoured to be doing it.

They say it’s a small world.

It became even smaller on Sunday afternoon, and not just for those who knew or worked with Casey and MacDougall, but for all of us. Because for a few short minutes, in whatever corner of Canada you call home, the Snowbirds brought us all together in celebration, and then in grief.

The high. The low.

There will be plenty of time for questions. We will wait for details of the investigation. We will remember there is an inherent risk for all those who wear a uniform to work. We will remember Casey and be thankful for the “Warriors of the Air” and OpInspiration.

For who knows how many seeds they planted in the hearts and minds of young Canadians over the past two weeks, laying the groundwork for the next generation of airwomen and airmen, aviation buffs and military supporters.

Per ardua ad astra.

J’lyn Nye is the Host of 630 CHED Afternoons and Honorary Colonel of RCAF 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron.

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